Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ghost Map

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World Steven Johnson.

When I was reading this, Dan asked me what it was about. I was only a few pages into it, so my response was a pretty basic "Cholera. London." And he immediately came back with "Oh, Broad Street Pump?" Granted, he does have a graduate degree in Modern British History, but that fact that "Cholera. London." is enough for him to know which outbreak is pretty amazing. As he explained to my shocked face "It's the outbreak where they discovered what causes it."

And it was. Not that anyone believed it for awhile, but.

In the summer of 1854, a cholera outbreak hit London. While not unheard of, this was a pretty severe one, decimating a neighborhood. When a scientist and the local clergyman teamed together to investigate the outbreak, one's knowledge of science and one's knowledge of the neighborhood and patterns of daily life led them to conclude something earth-shattering-- Cholera lives in the water, and all the cases stemmed from one pump, the Broad Street Pump.

Johnson does a wonderful job of tracing many threads of this story-- the dramatic rise of London as metropolis and the changes it was undergoing at the time, the reality of the working poor, the theories of science and disease at the time, the science of cholera, and the outbreak itself. The plot most closely follows the outbreak and investigation (which started before the outbreak ended) with the other threads woven in to help paint a complete picture.

The title refers to a map that John Snow made of the outbreak, clearly showing the deaths radiating out from one point, the pump. The Map is what helped convince the establishment that Snow's theory was correct.

Fascinating and readable.

Book Provided by... my local library

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